ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos pushed themselves to 4-0 Sunday with another record-setting day from quarterback Peyton Manning as they scored a franchise-record 52 points in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles. And after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos defense and special teams:
When the Broncos prepared for their first look at first-year Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s offense, Denver’s coaches said they were using video largely from the regular season's first three games. Which is why running back Chris Polk may have been a bit of a surprise to the Broncos game-planners. When Polk pounded his way for 4 yards through the middle of the Broncos defense for the Eagles’ first touchdown of the day, it was Polk’s first carry of the season. He was a player the Broncos had looked at before the 2012 draft, because at 222 pounds he was one of the more productive big backs on the board. But an extensive medical file, including left shoulder surgery in both 2008 and 2009 to go with knee surgery in 2011, likely kept him from being draft. Polk signed with the Eagles last season as an undrafted rookie.
The Broncos were fairly effective using a “spy’’ on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on many third-down situations to try to contain Vick in the run game. The Broncos used a variety of players for the job, including linebacker Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Shaun Phillips. The Broncos then played man coverage in the secondary on many of those third-down plays. And they were far more successful, far more disciplined in the second half. After surrendering 101 yards rushing in the first half Sunday, including 39 from Vick, the Eagles rushed for 65 in the second half with just two of those yards coming from Vick.
With as much as the Cowboys have thrown the ball to running back DeMarco Murray, the Eagles' success in getting the ball to the running backs in the passing game at times against the Broncos will certainly get a look from the Dallas coaches. Five of Vick’s 14 completions in the game went to running backs and one in particular is the kind of play that could be a concern for an aggressive defense like Denver's. With just under 4:30 left in the second quarter, the Broncos sent five rushers at Vick on a second-and-7. But instead of keeping running back LeSean McCoy into block to help block, McCoy released immediately and the closest Broncos linebacker or defensive back was 8 yards away. McCoy caught a little flip pass, thrown over the rush, and went 21 yards for the first down. Running back Bryce Brown had 35-yard catch-and-run on a similar play in the game.
Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has used safety David Bruton far more on defense than all of his predecessors did on the job during Bruton's time with the team, but when the Broncos signed their special teams captain to a three-year, $4.5 million deal in the offseason they had plenty of other duties in mind. Bruton is consistently one of the team’s best, and most active players in kick or punt blocking units. But Sunday he also showed he can block in the open field when asked in kickoff returns as well. It was Bruton’s and cornerback/safety Omar Bolden's blocks that set Trindon Holliday free for a 105-yard kickoff return for a score in the first quarter. Bolden picked off Eagles wide receiver Jeff Maehl, creating the initial lane and Bruton knocked down Eagles cornerback Jordan Poyer at the 45-yard line and that left Holliday with only the kicker to beat. Bruton locked on and drove Poyer to the ground. “I mean (Holliday) is a tremendous talent, but he needs people blocking for him,’’ said Broncos coach John Fox.
Steven Johnson’s blocked punt, scoop of the loose ball and 17-yard return for a touchdown was the result of Eagle’s long snapper Jon Dorenbos simply making a poor choice. At the snap, with Johnson lined up in the gap off his right shoulder, Dorenbos inexplicably looks left as soon as he lets the ball go and comes out of his stance, where there is no rusher. Dorenbos briefly puts his right hand on Johnson, but Johnson is already well into the gap on his way to punter Donnie Jones. "I knew I might get in there when he let me go,'' Johnson said.